SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - With California’s snow pack at its lowest level in nearly two decades and warning that global warming threatens future water shortages, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called on Wednesday for support for $5.9 billion in debt to expand state water works.
Noting the snow pack in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, a vital water source for the state, is at 29 percent of normal levels, Schwarzenegger said in a statement, “We can’t afford to wait any longer. We need a water management strategy that tackles all our long-term water needs.”
As he urged a reluctant legislature to embrace the bond plan, he said, “Due to climate change, we can expect a decrease in our snow pack by as much as 40 percent by the year 2050, which means more flooding in the winter and less drinking water in the summer.”
The Republican governor aims to revive legislation for the bond plan killed last month by Democratic lawmakers who control the legislature. They opposed the Republican-backed bill because it called for building two dams along with other water projects criticized by environmental lobbies.
The bill urges nearly $4 billion in general obligation debt and $2 billion in revenue bonds to finance the projects, intended to help meet future water needs in the center of the state, a farm-rich region experiencing a population boom.
Schwarzenegger has embraced both environmental causes and ambitious public works projects requiring billions of dollars in spending and debt.
Last year, the Hollywood icon struck a deal with lawmakers for landmark regulation to cap greenhouse-gas emissions, putting California at the forefront of state efforts aimed at addressing global warming.
At the same time, he rallied lawmakers to craft legislation to put billions of dollars in general obligation debt for infrastructure projects on the November ballot.
Voters backed the legislature’s four public works bond measures along with a fifth debt measure advanced by activists, approving the sale of nearly $43 billion in bonds for road, school, flood control, natural resources and other projects.
Schwarzenegger in his statement urged lawmakers to accept that California’s growing population will require two additional dams to meet the needs of a million families.
“Investing in conservation alone will not solve all of our water problems,” he said.
However, Schwarzenegger held out a compromise for Democrats and their environmentalist allies: a proposal to set aside $200 million for local agencies to improve water conservation.